What Can We Learn from the Psychology of Menu Design?

July 7, 2017

Jessica Hullinger at Mental Floss posted an article last year covering various psychological tricks restaurant menus employ to ensure ease of use and profitability. Here are two that we’d like to highlight and expound upon that are relevant even beyond menus:

The first point that Hullinger highlights is that well-designed menus limit your options. As she explains, the “paradox of choice” (the idea that more choices means more anxiety) dictates that there should be no more than seven options in any given category. More than that risks confusion, which will usually see customers opt for something they’re already familiar with.

So, what can we learn from this? You’ve undoubtedly heard the adage “less is more”, and this paradox is one of those reasons restaurateurs design their menus this way. This philosophy extends to more than the menu, of course: good design usually means recognizing that what you choose to leave out is as important as what you choose to leave in. Focusing your business’s energies towards a narrow range of great products and services will always be the right choice compared to offering a broad range of mediocre products and services. Identifying your business’s core strengths and exploiting them will be the difference between success and failure.

The second point from Hullinger’s article that we’ll highlight is how good menus make you feel nostalgic by trying to “trigger memories of family, tradition, and nationalism.” As she explains, this is why you’ll see Grandma’s Chicken Soup on the menu. We can imagine others, too, like Mom’s Meatloaf or Dad’s Grilled Cheese. What restaurateurs are trying to do here is connect with their patrons emotionally and to—despite its catchall nature—personalize the experience in some way. In this sense, a restaurant’s menu design is about humanizing their offerings.

Any business can make use of this advice. Now, that doesn’t mean a used car dealer should describe a pickup as being like Pop’s Ol’ Jalopy, but finding ways to emotionally connect with each customer, to make the process feel specifically about him, is critical to good sales technique. This can be in the way you position your products and services, how they’ll benefit him. Or, this can be as simple as taking interest in the customer himself. Make someone feel like a number, like dime-a-dozen, and he’ll show your business no loyalty in return. Find ways to connect with each person, to show you care about his patronage, and you’ll make a fan.

Identifying your business’s strengths and weaknesses, its opportunities for focusing on the right products and services or tailoring them to feel personal and thoughtful, is tough—self-appraisal always is. Instead, reach out to us at The Brandt Group, and we’ll bring an independent set of eyes to help your business grow its profits, engender customer loyalty, and become more than just a dime-a-dozen.

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